News / USA

NYC Landmark Celebrates Centenary

New York Landmark Celebrates Centenaryi
X
January 31, 2013 11:16 PM
Grand Central Terminal - usually called Grand Central Station - turns 100 in February, a living symbol of New York City. A year-long celebration is planned for this enormous train station and Beaux-Arts landmark, the world’s sixth most-visited tourist destination. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
New York Landmark Celebrates Centenary
Carolyn Weaver
Grand Central Terminal - usually called Grand Central Station - is 100 years old this month, a living symbol of New York City. A year-long celebration is planned for the Beaux-Arts landmark - "beloved, glowing, indispensable," as a new book describes it - that is also one of the world’s most visited tourist destinations.

Visitors marveled at the ornate limestone building when Grand Central opened on February 2, 1913. They still do. It is the largest train station in the world, by the number of platforms: 44, serving 67 tracks, all underground. About 750,000 people pass through its halls each day, whether to shop, sightsee, or catch a subway or commuter train.

The immense main concourse, with its arched windows, jewel-like four-sided clock and old-fashioned ticket-seller windows has appeared in many movies, as well, from the 1950s thriller North by Northwest, to a scene in the 1995 The Fisher King, where weary commuters crossing the marble floor are briefly transformed into waltzing couples.

"Grand Central is the kind of temple, cathedral that testifies to the magnificence of rail transportation, the kind that God would have built if he’d had the money," says Dan Brucker, a transit authority docent who has worked at the terminal for three decades. "But He didn’t. The Vanderbilts did," he adds, referring to the family whose fortune, derived from sea and rail transportation, built the station.

Train conductors talk to each other shortly before the first Metro North commuter train to leave Grand Central Station in New York, October 31, 2012.
Train conductors talk to each other shortly before the first Metro North commuter train to leave Grand Central Station in New York, October 31, 2012.
Stars shine down on commuters

"Look at how beautiful it is," he says. "This is the beginning of 20th-century architecture.  And as people come through this terminal, they don’t even realize that the magnificent celestial ceiling above them, the very roof of heaven, is exactly wrong, is exactly opposite: It’s a mirror image."

It is true: the turquoise October sky painted on Grand Central’s cylindrical ceiling, with pinpricks of light for stars, reverses the Zodiac, whether through the painter’s error or choice. "Some suggest the stars are the firmament as God would see the heavens from His or Her side of the firmament, and I sort of like that version," says urban historian Justin Ferate, who has been giving tours of Grand Central for 30 years.

Ferate says the station was designed to make travel pleasurable: a journey, not a slog. "The amazing thing about Grand Central is that it processes many, many more people than most airports in the world, in a way that’s gracious, and friendly," he says. "Looking up at the starry sky of Grand Central, you know you’re a traveler, you’re going off on a great adventure, you’re going to follow your stars and find your dream. You’re also going to find your train where it’s supposed to be."

Each architectural element was sized with human perception and anatomy in mind, Ferate adds, from the steps to the blocks in the Tennessee marble floors. He demonstrates by walking backwards down the concourse steps, taking off on a looping run through the crowd, and then sitting down on the floor.

"One of the amazing things about why people don’t run into each other in Grand Central is something very simple," he says. "Each block of stone in Grand Central is the length of your leg. Each block of stone is a different color, so it’s a checkerboard, based on you. So, when you run across the floor, you subliminally know exactly where everyone is standing."

A woman pulls her luggage at Grand Central Station while Hurricane Sandy approaches New York, October 28, 2012.
A woman pulls her luggage at Grand Central Station while Hurricane Sandy approaches New York, October 28, 2012.
History and mystery

The terminal is full of secrets and rooms that few people ever see. Deep underground, on a disused track that runs a few blocks to a space beneath the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, sits a rusting railway car. It was used by former president Franklin D. Roosevelt, who hid the fact of his paralysis from public view by transferring directly from the train to a private automobile on his visits to New York.  

In the Grand Central Oyster Bar, a restaurant that’s been part of the terminal from the beginning, an acoustical anomaly means that private conversations don’t always remain private: the tiled ceiling makes even whispers at some tables audible on the other side of the room. The whispering gallery, which has the same tiled ceiling, is a favorite stage for marriage proposals, according to Ferate.

Little-remembered now is that Grand Central Terminal was the target of a Nazi plot during WWII: Two German agents were dispatched to sabotage the giant rotary convertors in a deep subbasement that supplied electrical current for the railways. The two were found out and arrested before they reached New York.  In 1976, a group of Croatian nationalists planted a bomb in a locker at the station, hijacked a plane, and issued a set of demands.  The New York Police Department’s attempt to disarm the bomb according to their instructions went awry, however.  Thirty people were wounded and an NYPD bomb squad member killed when the bomb exploded.

The clock on the south facing side of New York's Grand Central Terminal strikes noon March 29, 2012.
The clock on the south facing side of New York's Grand Central Terminal strikes noon March 29, 2012.
View to impress

One of Justin Ferate’s favorite aspects of Grand Central is its exterior: not only the statue of the Roman god Mercury standing atop the Tiffany clock on the facade - flanked by statues of Minerva and Hercules - but the raised road and tunnel that shunt traffic around the terminal. "As you go through the tunnel, you’ll see daylight at the end of the tunnel and then you’ll rise high above the city," he explains, "And you’ll have buildings on the right and left that are holding you, just like a roller coaster ride at Coney Island!"

Grand Central narrowly escaped destruction when plans for topping it with an office tower were unveiled in 1968. The 10-year battle to save the terminal helped create the modern architectural preservation movement around the U.S. Now, no one would think of tampering with its classic beauty. In fact, in 2019, Grand Central will become even larger, adding a new subterranean station serving the Long Island Railroad, and cutting the travel times of thousands of commuters. The escalator ride down to what Dan Brucker says will be the deepest station on earth will take two and a half minutes.

You May Like

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid